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Long-neglected John Cheever story finds new life online

February 16, 2009 | 10:42 am

Fallincambridge

First published in 1943, John Cheever's story "Of Love: A Testimony" has gone unanthologized and unreprinted for 66 years. But today it's been revived by the literary website Five Chapters, which will publish the story online in five installments, beginning today.

Although it was written almost two decades earlier than Richard Yates' "Revolutionary Road," Cheever's "Of Love: A Testimony" seems suffused (as of Part 1) with a similar privileged ennui. At least, that's what it sounds like to me:

He was as good a representative of his class as you could find, born in a staid suburb, educated in mediocre schools, firmly grounded in the cynicism of his class and education. This cynicism, although heightened by college, sprang from a much deeper source. He had seen his parents struggle to work themselves up from oblivion and poverty and had seen the pleasure they took in his graduation from college and, being the object of their pleasure, he knew how unfounded it was. In the history of communities there are few migrations as futile as the suburban pursuit of respectability. Its children are bound to be cynical. In college it was a mark of character like cowardice or valor. His first year in the city encouraged this.

His biography, so far, compared to the lives of the exiled, the persecuted, the poor, the maimed, would lack all violence. Much of the cynicism sprang from a consciousness of his life's insignificance and lack of precedent.

But  perhaps Morgan's biography -- that's his name, Morgan -- is about to get more interesting; there is a girl, and it is called "Of Love: A Testimony." The whole idea with Five Chapters is that each story it publishes rolls out over the course of a work week, so, as they used to say, tune in tomorrow.

Or look for "John Cheever: Collected Stories and Other Writings" from the Library of America, due to hit bookstores March 5. This story is included there.

If, like me, you've only read John Cheever but never seen him in action, let me recommend the clips that Dick Cavett posted Friday in his column at the New York Times. All are from 1981, about six months before Cheever died, and are from his appearance on Cavett's show with a robust and respectful John Updike -- who quips that Cavett must miss the more contentious duo Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Christopher Schmidt via Flickr

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